WOMAD festival is a world of colour, positivity, music and arts in New Plymouth.

WOMAD Festival, New Plymouth


Experience the colour and positivity of a weekend camping at the WOMAD festival in Taranaki.

“Cute bus!” a woman in a high vis vest called. “She’s a real character!” This is exactly what the proud bus owner, my sister, liked to hear.

“Thanks!” my sister answered, patting the bus dashboard. “I agree!”

We were queueing to get into the WOMAD camping area and were soon waved through to an avenue of festival wagons, caravans, campervans, house buses, cheerful festival volunteers pointing the way, calling compliments, encouraging us through muddy patches. It was a warm welcome.

Camping with a bus is a great way to experience WOMAD

Camping with a bus is a great way to experience WOMAD. Photo by Kathryn Webster.

We found a good spot, with room for a tent alongside the bus. All around us, families were spilling out of vans, putting tents and awnings up, inflating airbeds.

I overheard conversations between parents and children about finding their way back to base: “See that gold-coloured bus? That’s our row… and see that blue tent with the flag? That’s opposite our camp.”

Once ensconced, we wandered down to the festival site, a kilometre-or-so walk, following others trekking in the same direction on a path that became very familiar over the weekend. This was the Way of the Campers: groups of friends, teens in pairs, families with babies and backpacks, excited children, young couples, older couples carrying collapsible chairs. All buzzing.

Down to another queue to enter the Bowl of Brooklands which, together with the connected Brooklands Park, is festival central. The buzz went up a notch.

Catching one of the many musical performances at WOMAD.

Catching one of the many musical performances at WOMAD. Photo by Dane Scott.

Past some food stalls, following the music, we weaved through the crowd to the front of the big stage. Behind us, the huge grassy amphitheatre was where groups would set up for the day, marking their patch with picnic blankets, flags on poles, little shelters. Right up the back and to one side of the bowl there were mature trees for shade. A small stage hid in the greenery and paths led to more stages, a market area with plenty of good food options, an area for workshops, a scattering of craft stalls.

Friday night’s launch set the scene: it was celebratory, up-beat and well-organised. Many acts across eight stages, hundreds of performers, thousands of guests, and it went like clockwork.

We could move from the end of one act to the beginning of another, as advertised, and it always worked out. Or we could wander from something that didn’t appeal to find something that did.

We found a potter selling teapots and mugs, toyed with the idea of buying some jewellery, listened to poetry, sat in the Taste of the World tent to learn about kimchi pancakes. At one point, we joined a taiko drumming workshop and were keen to attend a dance workshop but something else distracted us. Possibly just the vibrant life going on around us.

Enjoying the laidback atmosphere at WOMAD.

Enjoying the laidback atmosphere at WOMAD. Photo by Kathryn Webster.

People watching is a highly recommended WOMAD activity. Some make a real effort to get in the mood, dressing outrageously, crazily, bravely or even just very colourfully. It was great to see children react to what they were part of; I watched kids reacting to the various statements of personality and extroverted style, clearly intrigued. This is a place of acceptance and creativity and expression. Once a year, go on! Wear spots and stripes and sequins! Put on a hat! Or not! That is also OK, although – sunburn.

Families embraced the festival energy. Parents carried babies wearing noise-cancelling earmuffs, literally dragged little kids around (in handcarts) and gave in to demands for food, more food, hats, trinkets, crystals, henna tattoos – smiles all round.

At each of the performance sites were areas set aside for senior festival goers. Anyone with a Gold Card could, when they’d had enough of dancing, settle into tiered seating with good views.

WOMAD festival takes place in the heart of New Plymouth.

WOMAD festival takes place in the heart of New Plymouth. Photo by Aurora Digital.

What did they see? A sea of people, hands in the air, singing along, stage lights reflected in the lake, coloured lanterns. Big bands, big lights, bright colours, presenting high-energy positivity, irrepressible beats, strong and confident voices. Soul, funk, jazz. Or poetic, quietly tender sounds, especially on the smaller stages. Some music from far-flung places presented new sounds from unfamiliar instruments. New Zealand acts also featured, some we were familiar with and some we were not. Each performance was a gift from musicians asking us to reconsider our aural preferences and shed our blinkers. These travelling musicians make the world a more connected one with their insistence that we witness something new. They deliver something hopeful.


Story by Kathryn Webster for the Summer 2023 issue of AA Directions Magazine. Kathryn Webster is the Editor of AA Directions Magazine.

WOMAD NZ returns to the Bowl of Brooklands & Brooklands Park, New Plymouth, 15-17 March 2024 featuring, among others, Ziggy Marley, Arooj Aftab, Strawpeople, DakhaBrakha, Moonlight Benjamin, Anthonie Tonnon, Baaba Maal, Bailey Wiley, Dubioza Kolektiv, Equus, Gilberto Gil, Good Habits, Ibibio Sound Machine, Lady Shaka, Leenalchi, Morcheeba, Nitin Sawhney, Pongo, Son Rompe Pera, Te Kaahu ,Tejendra Majumdar & Ambi Subramaniam, Tio and WITCH – bringing music from all around the world. Check the WOMAD website for more information.


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